Compleat Idler, Free Society

Memorial Day

(c) 2012  Earl L. Haehl  Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.


Memorial day is usually less obtrusive on my mind. This year the flags were flying at half staff beginning Friday. It is not that I have an objection to the flag at half staff, but the symbolism is that the flag is hung at half staff on Memorial Day until noon in honor of the dead, and at full mast until dark to recognize that the Republic lives. As my flags have no means for half staff, they go up at noon.

The early morning included, as usual, a visit to the Vietnam War Memorial at the University. There are the names of the dead and missing—my classmates, a couple of whom I knew. And then I dropped by to a local McDonalds where I get the senior coffee and see friends. I am in a generation that is dying faster than the previous, so every year there are fewer to remember.

I did not go to Vietnam and so I feel a twinge of guilt; yet there is nothing I could have done then or now to change that—the military said, we do not want you. And I know that had I gone I would likely have gotten some of my fellows killed through my inability to perform at standard. So there is nothing to do but remember.

And now this could be our last time to remember. In the midst of our remembrance, we hear from the Secretary of Defense that the United States is capable of and ready for an attack on Iran to prevent them from obtaining a “nuclear device.” At the present time, the military and naval forces of the United States are stalemated in various military adventures—the intelligence community is working with “our NATO allies” to destabilize and overthrow the government of Syria to the point of a manufactured atrocity similar to the one that justified the bombing to overthrow the Milosevic regime in Serbia. Troops that are rotating home are exhausted and have low morale. And yet the United States is ready to go to war.

Discounting the fact that the evidence of Iran’s nuclear military intent and capability is unclear to anyone not of neo-conservative or AIPAC orientation, what does readiness to attack entail. Yes, we could dispatch a B-2 flight out of Whiteman AFB, MO, refuel in mid-air and drop a whole lot of tonnage on Iranian facilities before going on to Diego Garcia, we would have committed acts of war on Iran as well as those countries whose air space has been violated. Further, Iran, having been attacked could ask for assistance from its allies, among whom are Russia and China. China, in the not too distant past, held as doctrine that it could, because of its size and population, prevail in a nuclear exchange.

The magic mushroom cloud is not an option I would consider, but then I do not speak for Messrs Panetta and Obama. The problem is that once the genie is out of the bottle it has no retreat. The victory will go to Chaos—that god of destruction lurking beneath our veneer of civilization and waiting his time to burn our world–or to the eternal winter in the Ragnarok..

On a Memorial Day long ago I recall watching an interview with General of the Army Omar Bradley who was asked about the irrelevance of infantry now that we have “air power.” The answer was that you have not accomplished victory without infantry in place. In a war with Chaos or Loki even infantry is not enough.

Compleat Idler, Free Society, Surplus Stores

All others pay cash

(c) Earl L. Haehl  Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.


Following is the first in a series of articles based on experiences as a surplus scrounger. The story is fictionalized to the extent necessary to pull facts together that happened at different times. Ruark did this in The Old Man and the Boy. This first installment is fairly light weight and family friendly. I will try to make these okay for general audience consumption. Suffice to say that what happened in the fifties does not happen now.

The sign on the cash register in the surplus store said, “In God we trust. All others PAY CASH!!!” I was maybe 11 when first I wandered in unattended by adults. Back in suburban Denver I had to get rides to surplus stores and that meant adult supervision lest I bring home a moldy pup tent and try sleeping in the yard. It was a new world to me and I walked through aisles of stuff I never knew armies had. I knew about the ammo belts with the pockets that held en bloc clips for the Garand—we were up on our World War II movies and a little sad that Korea was over before we got old enough.

For 98 cents you could get a military hatchet and it was 35 cents more for the canvas pouch. This was WWII stuff in the days before well heeled re-enactors. Canteen with cover – 98 cents. Mess kit the same. Up front there were real steel tools. A size small wool shirt almost fit me at the time—and I would be wearing a large soon enough. The CPO shirt went for 2 bucks and I had something to wear under the parka my folks got me to wear.

But it was a world of fantasy—mine was the F-86 cockpit canopy for $29.98 that I could get when I was fourteen and I could earn real money at the grocery store. And it was my first outfitter. With ten bucks I got my first tackle box, some hooks, a real bobber and a South Bend reel. I also picked up 200′ of casting line. Cash payment. I knew that my folks had an aluminum JC Penney card that they used once a year if they did not have the reserves in the bank for school clothes.

Praceically everything in the store was priced two cents shy of the next dollar. You got the feeling you were saving money when you went home to stash it in craft paper tubes. And if you used a couple of those 50 cent rolls the proprietor—we called him Mr Ace because it was Ace Surplus.

It was late December in 1956. My dad had to come back from Denver and I rode the bus with him. I had 35 bucks and I knew that it would not be long before I would no longer fit under the canopy. My thoughts were now of next year’s buck season. A cousin of my aunt had a ranch and I had spotted the muley buck I wanted. And Mr Ace had dropped the price on Mausers.

Now, back in the mid-fifties there were no Form 4473 requirements. The Model 95 I wanted had dropped from $14.98 to $12.98. I lived two blocks west of Broadway, then it was a block south to the Chevy dealership and another block to Gambles which was a third of a block to Ace Army Surplus.

Mr Ace knew exactly what my mission was as I stood looking at the “Mauser barrel,” an old beer keg wih four or five slats missing. The weather was warm and I wore the white sombrero with the “Wyoming” crease my aunt had given me.

“So you’re going to hunt up by Alliance next year?”

“That’s my plan.” This may have been the first adult conversation I had that did not involve books. My interactions with adults were generally on a level of myself being somewhat less than 100 percent human. I might, at some point in the future be worth their time, but for the time being I should keep quiet unless asked a question. My father, a Shakespeare scholar, and the children’s librarian who decided I was a little too advanced for the Landmark series were the only adults it was safe to have a conversation with.

Then came the inevitable question. “Does your mother know you’re here?”

“No. She’s in Denver.”

“Do you have $12.98.”

“I have 17 bucks on my person. Gotta get some ammo too.”

“You know you’ll only get $8 if you bring it back?”

“My risk.”

“My advice is to keep it at Henry and Blanche’s for a while.” Aunt Blanche was my grandfather’s sister. Uncle Henry was her second husband. And that way we could keep it there and I would go out to his farm and really learn to shoot.

I got my eight bucks when we made the decision—that’s the way parents would speak—to move to the promised land of California. I had a plan to fix up my bike as a three wheeler and the money could buy the necessary lawn mower engine to power it. But they, my extended family, would not be there and my dad’s tool box was lacking in wrenches. And like the dream of the buck, the dream of the powered tricycle faded into time.

In 1997 I drove south on Broadway. The Chevrolet dealership had moved. Gambles was something else and Ace Army Surplus was no more. It was like time had erased the small town and the location of the interstate had made it smaller.

Mr Ace is gone now. In 2007 my mother, the last of her generation on both sides of her family passed. There are fewer surplus stores to fire the imagination. And many of those left deal in the colorful cheap imported outdoor gear that does not raise images of blood and sacrifice—no, kids get the image of blood without sacrifice from video games.

And then came the response to “terrorism” and now the key to purchase at a surplus store is a debit or credit card. Proprietors are warned to take note of persons using cash and demand identification. Also to beware of persons buy bulk ammunition, MRE style foods, etc. Okay, so as a clerk I would give anyone buying MREs in bulk the business card of my heart specialist. But I wonder jf, in the pursuit of a safe society we are forfeiting a free society.


Roll the dice – answer the question

(c) Earl L. Haehl  Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

Here again to confuse your minds because tearing out loose cobwebs keeps you awake and active. I, myself, am learning Spanish (and unlearning Italian because they confuse one another) and studying some of the improvements in math I let by while being a bureaucrat. And you are unlucky enough to hear about it.

Did you all whip out your TI-83s to solve the puzzle. I hope not, because the answer is that on any roll of the dice there are six chances in thirty-six possibilities that the number seven will emerge. Each roll of the dice is a separate event.

Now the odds of there being 101 consecutive 7s are 101 in 3.919911741×10 to the 78th power. That is a whole lot of zeroes. But is can happen. And if you keep rolling the same set of dice it tends to happen because of wear on edges or corners. And if you’re Sky Masterson, it helps to sing “Luck be a Lady,”(1) What the odds say is that in a random world it doesn’t happen very often.

The other thing you can do with the dice is to have one person roll the dice for say a half hour to 45 minutes and another record the number that shows each time. Then look at the distribution to see if it resembles the pattern. If someone did several thousand rolls it would probably work out—to find subjects who would go through that much boredom without it phasing them you need ed psych majors—sorry but there are things a lab rat would not do.(2)

If the results do not correlate to the chart, just remember that statistics has never been an exact science and that there are always random variances. Normal people realize this. In college I had a set to with my biology lab instructor because my fruit fly counts did not match the ratios in the book so I handed him my covered petri dish and told him to have at it. When you’ve matched wits with a vice principal for six years a grad student in public health is not that intimidating. General rules do not govern specific cases.

A further discussion can result in some questions of the randomness of nature.
1. Why did the microburst only take out half of the Bradford pear and nothing else on the property?
2. According to Native American lore (or possibly pioneer lore since Native Americans have not said everything they’re alleged to), the City of Topeka was protected from tornadoes by the location of Burnett’s mound in relation to the Kansas River. Why did the 1966 Tornado come over Burnett’s Mound?
3. Does lightning strike twice in the same place?


1. From Guys and Dolls, a Frank Loesser musical based on some short stories by Damon Runyon. Sky Masterson is a character based on WB (Bat) Masterson, a fellow sports writer with an interesting past.
2. The terms ed psych major, law student, lawyer and lab rat can be used interchangeably.


Logic & Statistics The Question

(c) Earl L. Haehl  Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

Okay, homeschoolers out there and those who want to play with numbers. Back when I was in high school I was what we call a nerd. Those questions in calc that require graphing the answer we used to do with a slide rule and graph paper. What is the secret to math and logic? It’s a game.

The simplest introduction to statistics is the craft of the bookmaker. The game of chance presumes a random order. And the fall of the dice on the green table is not dependent on who is betting or how much. The dice are simply cubes with dots on them. When they roll they must land on one of those sides or we’ve found ourselves in one of the Rev Mr Dodgson’s mathematical fantasies where they could as easily balance on a corner or not land at all. I prefer dice to coins because with 36 possibilities they hold the attention longer.

A logical question based on a legitimate statistic is as follows:

1. A standard die has six sides and the odds of it landing on any side if tossed is 1 in 6.
2. 2 dice each have the same independent odds of landing on any side. However, the odds of both landing on specific numbers in order to have a specified total is related to 6×6 or 36 possibilities.
a. 2 1+1 1 in 36
b. 3 1+ 2, 2+1 2 in 36, 1 in 18
c, 4 1+3, 2+2. 3+1 3 in 36, 1 in 12
d. 5 1+4, 2+3, 3+2. 4+1 4 in 36, 1 in 9
e 6 1+5, 2+4, 3+3, 4+2, 5+1 5 in 36
f. 7 1+6, 2+5, 3+4, 4+3, 5+2, 6+1 6 in 36, 1 in 6
g. 8 2+6. 3+5. 4+4, 5+3, 6+2 5 in 36
h. 9 3+6, 4+5, 5+4, 6+3 4 in 36, 1 in 9
I. 10 4+6, 5+5. 6+4 3 in 36, 1 in 12
j 11 5+6, 6+5 2 in 36, 1 in 18
k, 12 6+6 1 in 36
3. The most likely number to be thrown (barring weighted dice) will be 7. The odds are still against any specific number being thrown.
4. To decide what the odds of throwing any lot of 7s you add the top numbers in the top and multiply the bottom. So for the odds on two in a row are 1+1/6×6 or 2 in 36.
5. The question is: Randy has rolled 100 7s in a row. Presuming this to be random and not the result of funny dice odds of this occuring 100 in 6.533186235 x 10 to the 77th power.

. Now 10 to the 77th power is 1 followed by 77 zeros—they have a way to represent it, but not a name.  Realize that looking at those zeroes can give you one heck of a headache. This is a number for use in statistics or quantum physics. So what are the odds when Randy picks up the dice again that he will roll a 7?


Free Society

Direct Democracy

(c) Earl L. Haehl  Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

“Blue laws” are a product, not of the tyrannical monarchy or the state church, but of the Puritan opposition and the dissenters in England as well as the direct democracy of New England Town Meetings. And the town meeting came from the dissenters and the Mayflower Compact.

The dissenters we think of as so noble in their quest were the Separatists of Scrooby who were generally left alone in England—Anglicans of the time did not care if the scruffy dissenters did not show up and drag mud into the Church—but were taxed anyway. They did object to the ostentation of the Establishment in dress and manners which might lead their children astray. We see similar traits in the German Anabaptist groups in this country who worry about their youth “marrying English.” They were equally or possibly more upset in Holland because of the idle games the Dutch (Nederlander) children played. So in 1620 they headed to the new world to find “religious freedom.” That last statement was a T/F question—the answer is F. They came to Plymouth to establish their own religion as the authority. The colony was divided into “saints and strangers.” No one referred to the as Pilgrims before the 19th Century—though I can imagine John Wayne as Miles Standish talking to Jimmy Stewart as John Alden. The strangers comprised about two thirds of the Plymouth “plantation” but were subject to the rules of the saints. (And some of their descendents get upset over the concept of Sharia.)

About ten years later the Puritans came to Boston and founded the Massachusetts Bay colony. My ancestors came with that group—hard, disciplined Puritans made their stern imprint on New England. They were technically Anglicans but eventually split into Congregationalists, Unitarians and some decided to return to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London.

The Separatists sort of merged into the more dominant population. And the proponents of “religious freedom” banished Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams to Rhode Island to die—they did not have electroshock or mental hospitals. The good folk (John Alden for example) also executed Baptists and Quakers.

The unique governmental structure coming out of this is the Town Meeting. In many towns, the Meeting House was also the Congregational Church early on before disestablishment. The Blue Laws came from local ordinances in New England’s small towns—some were transferred to the new states by New Englanders who traveled west and took their attitudes and customs along. (The same problem exists today when some of the California refugees want to bring along the social legislation and the initiative that caused their tax problems where they came from.) My son has told me there is no greater tyranny than the New England Town Meeting.

Here is how it works. Majority vote at the meeting determines ordinances, budgets etc. The town meeting participatory democracy. And it has lasted as long as it has because it is part of the culture. The Congregational churches operated the same way. Prior to the American Revolution at least two Congregational ministers, Solomon Palmer and Samuel Seabury, lost their congregations and decided to take Anglican orders. Some found other jobs. Today a United Church of Christ minister has other options, but the congregation still has power to choose.


Social Security Commentary

(c) Earl L. Haehl  Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

I suppose every blogger has some opinion of the Social Security issue. And while every politician who can move his or her lips has spoken out, the question remains as to whether a permanent fix is appropriat for what in 1935 was a quick fix to lower the unemployment rate in time for the 1936 election.

Disclaimer: I am a Social Security recipient.  That was optional but I calculated out that any way I go I will be 82 1/2 when I will have gotten back the funds confiscated from my employers and myself in my name.  Added to this is the fact that the dollars confiscated in 1975 are paid back in 2010 dollars.  And with all due respect to those who have said this is an insurance plan I say, “No!”  Social Security was designed to supplement pensions so employees would have an incentive to leave the workforce.  A true insurance plan would have fiduciary responsibilities unknown in government programs.

I began working when Dwight David Eisenhower was President and was paid under the table.  I can say this because all of the employers who so paid me have long ago passed into the realm that is beyond the jurisdiction of the Internal Revenue Service.  The culture back then was to avoid this.  Lyndon Baines Johnson was President when I first had the deduction.

Every so often a politician announces that something has to be done about Social Security and it has to be a permanent solution not a quick fix.  The resulting solution is a bipartisan plan that buys a few more years so “we” will have time to work out a permanent solution.  It is interesting that politicians use the the term “we” to mean someone who will have to deal with the problem somewhere down the line.  But the root of the problem is never addressed.

It’s easy (and often accurate) to blame the Prussians.  John Taylor Gatto points out that Horace Mann was heavily influenced by the Prussian system of public education.  Bean counters admire Prussian record keeping,  The use of statistics in government program development comes from the formation of Germany in 1870.  The hours of close order drill to which I was subjected from age 16 to 19 was the result of Benjamin Franklin recruiting an out of work Prussian staff officer to devise a method of drill for the Continental Army.  And from use of statistics Bismarck determined that 65 was an optimum age for members of the German Army to retire.

Back in the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt was trying to redesign the mode of production in the United States to combat an economic “crisis” resulting from government and government authorized actions.  In 1929, the Federal Reserve tightened the money supply because the economy was a little too “hot.”  This resulted in the Stock Market crash of 1929.  The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 was vetoed by President Hoover–I give him credit for this–but it was passed over his veto.  US Industry was at full production until April of 1931 according to Merrill Rukeyser.  He viewed Smoot-Hawley as the proximate cause of the recession that began in 1931 and was nursed along by FDR until it was handed to Harry Truman.

Which brings us to the New Deal.  What FDR promised was a set of temporary laws that would restore the country.  Frances Perkins, graduate of Mt Holyoke College and Columbia University was the Secretary of Labor.  In 1935 she chaired the group that brought forth the Social Security Act.  Remember back in 1870 that Bismarck’s plan for retirement arrived by statistics at age 65.  It was a rare retired soldier that would live beyond 67 or 68 (a significant portion did not make it to 65) which made the retirement age sustainable (well, statistically sustainable).  Age 65 retirement made sense in the new deal because it had a precedent–it did not have the statistical analysis that said that workers were not as effective at that age or that their longevity was ideal to this.  The other factor that was probably more important was that this would give the older worker an incentive to leave the workplace so that “family men” could have jobs.

Like the other alphabet programs the SSA would disappear at the end of the emergency, which in this case, turned out to be 1946.  However, all of the New Deal legislation remained in effect and was enlarged upon.  In 1965, Medicare was added to the Social Security entitlement.  There have been various adjustments in retirement age.  Only individuals ages 16 through 64 are considered to be in the Civilian Workforce.  This is comparable to the withering of the state after the dictatorship of the proletariat.  While Social Security did not demand retirement at any age, social pressure was applied to those who kept “family men” out of the workforce–this is the way authoritarian regimes keep power by demonizing those who do not get with the program,

Unintended consequences:  Every piece of social legislation has unintended consequences which keep lawyers and activists in business.  While taking social security is not necessary, in a society where there were “family men” out of work, there was a certain opprobrium attached to older workers staying on jobs.  In a manufacturing setting it used to be the older skilled workers would train the newbies–65 retirement eliminated that.  AVTS and junior college are not a substitute.  When I worked at the ladder company I was taught by the foreman even though I had shop training in school and knew everything.

And the “jobs are for family men” meme sort of evolved into a bias against older workers. That had to be rectified by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.  And it is still a perception that when you’re 60 or so it is over.  Except that there is an expectation that “older workers” make excellent greeters but not necessarily sales associates in the sporting goods section.  You will find retirees in small hardware stores, but not the big box outfits.

Meanwhile, if you are between age  40 through 70 and so inclined, you may tie an employer up with an EEOC investigation to determine whether or not there are reasonable grounds for you to sue that employer–no worries; the taxpayers pick up your tab whether or not EEOC finds anything and you have achieved a terrific inconvenience for your employer. The costs of the inconvenience will be passed on to the employer’s customers who pay the taxes to fund federal regulatory agencies.  And if that employer is a manufacturer, the cost of mounting regulatory inconveniences can help make product less competitive in the marketplace.